A hydropower project that was to be the last of five planned large-scale Mekong river dams in Laos may begin construction ahead of schedule, according to the Lao government.
The Luang Prabang dam may become the third completed large Mekong dam in Laos after the now-operational Xayaburi and the Don Sahong dam, in its final testing phases.
Support for the project from the Thai government may result in Luang Prabang leapfrogging the Pak Beng and Pak Lay dams, which have both completed their prior consultation phases.
An official of Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines told Thai TV Channel 3 on Tuesday that the government had faith in the project.
“The Lao government is confident that the company designing the Luang Prabang dam will come up with a good construction plan,” said Chansaveng Boungnong, the director general for the ministry’s Department of Energy Policy and Planning.
“It’s going to be like the Xayaburi dam,” Chansaveng said, adding, “Luang Prabang may be built before Pak Beng and Pak Lay.”
Thai BBC also reported that Chansaveng participated in a meeting for the project’s prior consultation process on the same day in Thailand’s Nakhorn Panom province.
“This project may be going forward before Pak Beng dam and Pak Lay dam because the Thai government also supports it,” he said at the meeting.
RFA was not able to verify Chansaveng’s assertion with the government in Bangkok.
He also said the project’s joint support, and the fact that the Lao government is currently negotiating a power purchase agreement with Thai government and business entities, were signs that construction could soon be underway.
Thai BBC also reported that Thailand’s water resources department was looking to reduce the possible negative impact of the project.
“It’s clear that the Xayaburi dam is having an impact resulting in fluctuating water levels, so, Luang Prabang dam may have to make some adjustments to mitigate this impact,” Somkiat Prachumwong, the department’s secretary, told the BBC
“Together, we’ll be looking for measures to prevent impacts, and to incorporate these into our construction plan. The members [of the Mekong River Commission (MRC)] should have a Joint-Action Plan first,” Somkiat added.
RFA’s Lao Service spoke to Thonthong Chuthaket, a fisheries professor at Thailand’s Ubon Rratchthani University, who said that it was necessary to listen to people concerned about the project and should be more thorough in the consultation process.
“Of course, the right to build the Luang Prabang Dam belongs to Lao government,” he said Wednesday.
“But the Lao authorities should heed expert advice and the demands of the local fishermen and people in the lower Mekong River basin. They should conduct a more comprehensive process of consultation than this,” he added.
The prior consultation process meeting was boycotted by several NGOs. A representative of the Eight Thai Province Network NGO explained the absence to RFA, saying, “Whether we participate in the meeting or not, it won’t make any difference, because they have already made up their minds [to build the dam],”
“They [want us there] just to get our names,” the representative added.
“If we attend, we may speak up against the project; but they would never listen to our advice. If we go, we’ll be only a rubber stamp for them.”
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.